Monday, September 14, 2009

Homeless in Houston, Texas

You have heard about it. People being homeless. It happens, for a variety of reasons. Sue and I had been married for almost 9 years when we chose to be homeless.

We had moved from Southern California, where we had both been born and went all through school there, dated there, got married there, and overall we were very happy there. So somehow we decide to leave our idealic setting in California and move to Houston, Texas.

We had some big plans to make some big money and so on, but there was very little we enjoyed about Houston. We had purchased a nice little 2 bedroom home in Houston from the sale of our home in California and had put down a substantial down payment to keep our payments low.

Then the infamous oil embargo hit and Houston was hit hard economically. This was just another insult on top of our struggle in living in this curious city. I will not go into detail as to what we found to not suit us in this city as I do not wish to offend. It very well may have been that we were the problem. You know... the old square peg, round hole kind of thing. We were the peg, and Houston was the hole.

I was employed as a Respiratory Therapist at a hospital while Sue took on private duty sitting for a wealthy little lady. She worked nights, I worked evenings, and we rarely got to see each other. So at some point, along with my brother and his wife, we all decided to stop chasing this dream, and find something different. Find a place to live where we can own some land, and grow a garden and raise some animals. We do some research and we zero in on Arkansas, and then specifically on Mena. There was affordable land, plenty of water, and a reasonable four seasons.

So after a weekend visit to Mena, we secure some land which we will divide between Sue and I and my brother and his wife. But before we can move we need to sell our home in Houston. After visiting a realtor, we are being told that property values are in the dumps as the oil embargo has hit Houston hard. There are a lot of properties on the market and they are not moving. The value of our home has us under water. So we put it on the market and hope to sell it and maybe break even.

We are now also making payments on our property in Arkansas, and we decide that to accelerate our being able to get out of Houston, we would rent out our home and move into a cheap apartment. So we rent out the home, and are so busy coming and going with our jobs we simply do not take the time to find an apartment.

Here is how it was working. Sue spends 5 nights a week doing her private duty sitting in a very nice home, where she usually gets a full nights rest. I am roughing it in my Volkswagon Van, until we find an apartment. On the weekends we would get to be together in the van. We had moved all of our belongings into a storage unit and would access as needed. After a couple of weeks it was evident that we were not going to rent that apartment. Sue took on another job as a delivery person for eyewear to the various Optometrists in the area. Now we were making some extra money. We were now able to double up on our payment to the property in Arkansas. So we decided that this homeless life-style would work.

My day would go as such. I would go to work in the afternoon. I would tie up my dog (a boxer) to the front bumper, and provide her with plenty of food and water and a carpet to lay on. I would check on her during breaks and lunch. After my shift, I would either simply sleep in the parking lot of the Hospital in the van, or would go out and find a place in some residential area to park on the side of the road. In the morning, I would usually go to our local fitness center for a shower, and sometimes would meet with Sue to play some racquetball. Meals were right out of the little ice chest. Cereal and Sandwiches.

Sue would spend most of her day doing her delivery route and she took care of the cat in her little Dodge. A kitty litter box was behind the drivers seat, and food and water behind the passenger seat. Then at night she would be with the little lady with whom she did the private duty sitting. In the morning, she would usually join me at the fitness center.

This was actually working very well! Yes, we were homeless, but by choice. It was not for lack of money, as we easily could have stayed in our home, or moved into that cheap apartment, but we soon realized that this was working pretty well and indeed was quite convenient. We were very determined to get to Arkansas, and our sacrifice was really not a big hardship.

Now things did not always go well. I got a complaint about my dog being in the parking lot of the hospital, as well as me sleeping there, thus I moved on to greener pastures. I thought that our dog was happy and I would let her run in a big field everyday. But one day I took her out to run and she simply kept on running. I waited and waited, and searched for her, but she was gone. I think she had grown weary of the "Hippie Bus". Then there was the late night visit to my van by the police.

I had parked just a block away from where Sue worked at night. A very nice neighborhood, so I felt safe. I am almost asleep when I see the flashing lights behind the van, and a flashlight was being rapped against my window. Oh, boy.... the police.... I am in my boxer shorts and figure the police would not mind, so I throw open the sliding door and there stands a young lady officer shining her flashlight on me. Her first words... "What are you doing"? I reply, I am trying to sleep. She shines her light into the back and sees my very comfortable bed, my little ice chest and my little chest of drawers. "Why are you sleeping in your van"? This is were I sleep. I am not trying to be cute with the officer as I did not know what kind of trouble I might be in. Do you not have a home? I explained that I do, but it is rented out. I am now sure she is viewing me as totally down on my luck, and homeless. She tells me to stay put while she calls the station.

While she is in her patrol car, I am imagining I am in all kinds of trouble, and fear I could be in jail tonight and have my car towed. She returns and states, "Okay, I have checked and apparently you are not breaking any laws, but the people that live in the home you parked in front of called as they saw you park, but you never got our of your vehicle and they got concerned and called the police". I explained to her where I worked, where my wife worked and that all was good. She gave me a funny look, and suggested that I should find a better place to park. After that incident, I got permission from the fitness center to park in their lot each night.

Weekends were great. Sue and I got to sleep in the bus, and it was like a continuous camping trip. In fact it was during these interesting times that we chose to start a family. Yeah baby.... were living in our cars, let's start that family.

Sue was 8 months pregnant when we moved to Arkansas. We had lost our home in Texas. Now all I had to do was find a job, and build a home in 1 month. But that will be another story.


Anonymous said...

You’ve seen "Sleepless in Seattle". Stay tuned for previews to “Homeless in Texas”…

Anonymous said...

this is from a homelessperson.